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Conor Armor
Chelsea Jennings
Larissa Pham
Riley Stevenson
Molly Gunther
Bryan Kalbrosky
Austin Powe
Hannah Tabor
Brandt Hamilton
Camille Lieurance
Andrew Rogers
Michelle Tran
Tanner Heffner
Zach McKinney
Nai Saephanh
Julian Weisburd
A few weeks ago, I overheard a single from a band who I hadnt listened
to in a while. I was struck by how important the band used to be in my life,
even though they werent present in it anymore. Teyd made a big impact
on me over the course of my freshman year in college, and re-hearing their
music made me want to write about what the songs meant to me and why
Id become so attached to them at that stage in my life.
After I was done writing my piece, I was hungry to read more essays like
thatstories about bands that have shaped peoples lives, personal rituals
associated with particular albums, the connections we make in our brains
between a single song and a time in our livesbut I realized there are very
few blogs, magazines, and media outlets that cater specifcally to that kind
of writing. Dammit!
But then I started thinking about where Id already read essays like
that, where Id already participated in those kinds of discussionswith
my friends! What if we put together a collection of stories about our music
Surrounded by the Sound is the product of 16 talented and music-loving
individuals who want to share their music memories with you. Instead of
grabbing you by the lapels and shaking you while chanting YOU NEED
essays in this anthology.
Please enjoy the following stories with your headphones in, because
you need to hear this album. It changed my life.
Austin Powe
June 2014
4 5
Recently I asked a group of people this question: If you could only listen
to male vocalists or female vocalists for the rest of your life, which would
you choose?
So far I have only heard responses in favor of the male voice. Tis does
not surprise me. Most of my favorite musicians and singers are male Te
Strokes, Modest Mouse, Sam Cooke, Johnny Cash, Te Growlers, Leonard
Cohen, LCD Soundsystem, Sufan Stevens, Tom Waits, Neutral Milk Hotel.
And yet, I will choose female voices every time, because no vocalist will
ever crack my heart, aorta to apex, quite like Jenny Lewis.
Lewis is the primary vocalist of the now broken-up indie rock band Rilo
Kiley, with two solo albums Rabbit Fur Coat and Acid Tongue and collabora-
tion credits with Te Postal Service and Conor Oberst. She is basically the
closest thing we have to a female Morrissey. I was in middle school when
I frst heard the Rilo Kiley album More Adventurous. Te music was smart
and powerful and cool-girl Jenny Lewis had perfect bangs and sang lead
in a band full of guys. My older sister used to play it and I begged her to
let me borrow the rest of her Rilo Kiley albums, which I immediately put
on my lime green 4GB iPod Mini (sidenote: isnt it amazing to think about
how much our generation has been afected by being the frst to have such
a personalized portable soundtrack playing in our ears just for us? I mean I
guess mixtapes were a thing but they generally refected one mood where-
as an mp3 player provides all the moods you could ever want right at your
I listened to Portions for Foxes the most, yelling along to the lyric:
when the loneliness leads to bad dreams and the bad dreams lead me to callin
you and I call you and say CMERE! I was too young to understand the
messy threads of love and sex that this song describes, but it was the frst
time I listened to something and didnt think oh, this speaking to me
right now or he is totally singing this love song to me. For the frst time
I started thinking about being the one who did the speaking, who could
write and sing beautiful words about love, losing it, and all the stuf in-be-
Te earlier albums Take Ofs and Landings and Te Execution of All Tings
had lyrics that read like prose, lyrically flled with Lewis childhood recol-
lections of loss, displacement, anger, and hopelessness. With Arms Out-
stretched is still my favorite song to sing/yell while Im driving through
my hometown, when the sun is setting and the air smells sweet and cor-
roded all at once cows, dirt, and something blooming. A mountain, dis-
tant and snowcapped, on my right, rising over a feld of dairy cows. On my
left is a feld with four ebony horses, and pine trees kissing the sky.
I listen to Jenny Lewis on those days when I just want to reach out to
people and yell, someone make me feel better! Tose days I feel like a faulty
string of Christmas lights, blinking of and on and of again. Tose days
when I cant turn anything into poetry. Tose days I look for things to
build me up and nothing works, not the silvery hey of a text message,
not the warm lips of a boy, not even making new friends. And then there
are the words,

But I still believe
And I will rise up with fsts
And I will take whats mine
Tere but for the grace of God go I

and suddenly Ive found a way to feel better all by myself.
6 7
It makes me giggle when I think about how nervous I was the frst time
I was alone as a disc jockey in the studio for the University of Oregon Cam-
pus Radio station.
As my index fnger slowly raised the audio levels to Tinkin Bout You
by Frank Ocean during the frst song that I had played, I had a lot of doubts
about whether or not Id be half good at this gig. I knew that I thought my
music taste was cool, but what if no one else enjoyed it? Or, worse: what if
my radio voice ended up sounding like my high school English teacher that
doubled as the host for the Grateful Dead tribute show on the public radio
channel in Los Angeles? My mind raced to a thousand places, worrying
about whether or not the FCC would shut down the entire radio station if
I accidentally slipped an f-bomb into one of my songs.
It didnt take me long for me to learn, however, that no one really lis-
tens to KWVA. Once I realized that the people who actually tune in to 88.1
FM are typically just either other KWVA DJs driving to get groceries or
burnout hippies listening on transmitter radios and no one is expecting
All Songs Considered on NPR, it helped me take myself signifcantly less
Soon after, I started to get way more comfortable behind the micro-
phone, and even conceived a goofy name for my developing on-air person-
ality: DJ Brosky.
Te end of spring term at the University of Oregon marks the end of my
second full year as a college radio disc jockey for KWVA. My show, which
became known as Te Everything Bagel earlier this year, snowballed into
developing its own theme recently as well.
My goal is to play music that I had heard and was drawn to for the frst
time in the last week. Teyre usually found on hip music blogs but artists
can, of course, be obscure as the L.A. beat maker that I heard on the Low
End Teory podcast the previous night as well. My sets often have a more
danceable feel to keep my listeners energetic and engaged, and Ill usual-
ly play a lot of remixes of everything from King Krule and Te Weekend to
something more recognizable like Lorde or Justin Timberlake.
Favorite sets, though, are the ones where I decide to share a song or
two that has struck me at an important moment in my life. Teres noth-
ing like admitting a secret about a song to an audience of mostly strang-
ersand, of course, my dadwho still tries to listen to all of my shows
and even calls in from his ofce where he works as an accountant.
An irony of radio broadcast, however, is that it can get lonely in the
studio when Im the only one in there during my show.
It feels strange be in an empty room talking about #musicfeelings
when I dont know who is listening, yet I know that someone is hearing the
jibber gabber coming out of my mouth between the newest tracks by Mac
DeMarco and Chance the Rapper. Tats why the rare afternoons, when
I get a call on the request line from an otherwise out-of-touch friend in
Brooklyn telling me that hes been grooving to my set, can help make my
experience at KWVA gratifying beyond words.
Ive always felt that the most magical moments in studio come through
conversation with other DJs, especially upon discovering similar music
taste. Teres the initial desire to impress, yes, but when Im able to con-
nect and share as well it can very well become overwhelming.
Every time Im in the studio now, for example, I think about the time
when I frst met a newcomer at the UO from Kansas Citywho, soon af-
ter, I began dating on and of for the subsequent two years. We talked
about Wilco, FIDLAR and Bathsand the playlist I made for that broad-
cast is still specially labeled on my computer for memories sake.
Ive been involved with various groups and clubs on campus. Nothing
has given me the satisfaction that I get from my weekly hour in the studio
in that weird, smelly room covered in stickers and a wall of CDs above
the EMU student union on Monday from 2-3PM. Revisits to every playlist
brings back memories from each week, and I can always remember where
I was in my head based on the way that the songs sound when I click play.
Its a privilege to get this opportunity on KWVA and I cherish the time
I get to spend in the studiowhether its interviewing Yoni Wolf from the
band WHY? or just doing some homework while eating pizza before my set
during fnals week.
8 9
In many ways, my spirit animal is a 75 year old woman. I think that
9:30 PM is a perfectly reasonable bedtime, I hate talking on the phone be-
cause I can never hear or know when its my turn to talk, and I get anxiety
when Im around groups of youths under 12. Besides all that, what really
binds me to the geriatric crowd is an undying love for the musical stylings
of my main bitch, Patsy Cline.
I would like to say that my love for Patsy began at birth, but truthfully
I was indoctrinated over years of spending summers in Canada. Growing
up, I spent at least two weeks every summer at my grandparents lakeside
cottage outside of Toronto. Te cottage had no TV, faulty plumbing, and
did double-duty as a mansion for earwigs. It wasand still ismy favor-
ite place in the world.
Every year the entirety of my extended family would gather for a fam-
ily reunion of sorts at the cottage. As beftting the rustic experience, the
cottage had no dishwasher. Under normal circumstances this might have
been only an irksome quirk of the place, but when you were feeding 13
people for every meal, washing in the sink became a mountainous and
grueling task (at least from the perspective of 8 year old me, on those occa-
sions when I was expected to pull my weight). We all took turns, but when
it was my turn I never failed to throw a tantrum, citing in my elementary
school vernacular the absolute travesty of child labor.
To end my griping, my grandpa suggested that I choose a CD to listen
to while I did the dishes. I readily agreed, expecting to be able to choose
from a stack of CDs that would include *NSYNC, A*TEENS, or basically
any band that spelled their name in all caps and included an asterisk. I
mean, what else would my grandparents listen to? Imagine my surprise
when, instead, my choices were James Taylor, a live recording of the Roch-
ester Symphony Orchestra, something that looked like a greatest hits on
the bongo drums collection andproviding the foundation for this pile
of disappointmentPatsy Clines Greatest Hits. As all music fans should, I
chose my CD based completely on jewel case aesthetics, selecting the psy-
cho-looking woman in a yellow dress posing on a bright green background.
Little did I know, this woman was going to be with me the rest of my life.
I listened to Patsy every day for the entire vacation, and then again the
next year and again the next year. I didnt understand the lyrics (Patsy
lived a sad life; she divorced once, got in a terrible car accident, and just
generally wrote songs about how shitty men were) and I hated country
music, but Patsy transcended these barriers. Patsy could sing about spilled
milk and, with those sad pipes of hers, make it feel like spilled milk was lit-
erally the worst thing that could happen to a person. It didnt matter that
when I frst heard her music, boyfriends were an amorphous idea that was
more icky than appealing, Patsy made me understand at the tender age
of 8 that life was going to be an unending shit storm. (Just a sampling of
some of her most popular songs titles: Crazy, I Fall To Pieces, Heart-
aches, Shes Got You, Your Cheating Heart, etc.)
Yet despite the heart-wrenching tone of her music, Patsy Cline never
fails to make me happy. I grew up listening to her with my arms elbow
deep in suds and dirty dishes, full from a delicious meal cooked by people I
loved and who loved me back, looking out at beautiful Lake Huron. To me,
Patsy Cline is home.
10 11
Ive always measured my life in anecdotes. I always have some weird
thing to say about everything which I would usually attribute to my bril-
liant storytelling la the SOJC but its really because Ive inherited the
congenital blabberitis from my mother. Most of those anecdotes are about
pop culture, not like real life yknow because Im a millennial.
When it comes to music, most of my more interesting anecdotes are
about concerts Ive been tono one wants to hear about me crying con-
stantly to Beach Houses Teen Dream when I got dumped. I started attend-
ing live shows in the seventh grade, starting with Green Day. Its reminis-
cent of my age, I know, but after spending a night screaming in the AT&T
Park in San Francisco, I realized that I needed more. Concerts to 13-year-
old me were better than drugs and sex (probably), and it was a way for
me to feel connected to something other than my black eyeliner and mp3
player. I then discovered Warped Tour in the 8th grade where I continued
to live out my teenage emo-pop punk phase till 2009. I got to leave my
all-girls Catholic high school bubble and sneak out to the city to see All
Time Low because I was like, a rebel and maybe Id meet Alex Gaskarth and
become internet famous on Myspace.
Now that Im older and have much better taste in music and men, Im
sure my money could have been better spent, but theres a nostalgia in
wearing badly printed tees from Zumiez that make you laugh and cringe
at the same time. Teres a kind of street cred at parties where I could say,
Yeah Blink-182 was so awesome in their reunion tour and I can never
listen to Skrillex ever because of that terrible post-hardcore band he was
in. Also, if Sugar Were Going Down suddenly starts playing somewhere
I can yell out the lyrics and I know some other twentysomethings will yell
with me without feeling ashamed.
Some days I try to forget that I listened to bands with ridiculous names
like Cute is What We Aim For and Cobra Starship, but I have to remember
that it was those bands of dubious talent that helped me form friendships
for life and for pushing other people to get to the front row. Te ques-
tionable music phases may come and go but the unique connection the
audience feels when their ears are being blasted by the amps are forever.
12 13
I remember 17 as my most volatile year. In 2011, I sort of, kind of come
out of the closet; I realized I wouldnt live in the suburbs forever (but still
had time to do); and Im pretty sure I wasnt done with puberty yet. I was
hormonal, ridiculous, and had some growing up to do. Musically, I was
phasing out of my shunning of all music that wasnt indie and accepted
that pop music could be elegant, smart, and beautiful, too.
Enter the release of Adeles 21, her sleeper-hit record about sadness,
pain, and lost love. What I love about 21 is its uncompromised emotion:
the songs are open and intimate, like youre eavesdropping on a conver-
sation or reading a diary. And Adeles vocal style, as far-reaching and im-
pressive as it is, always creaks and stumbles, creating these perfect imper-
fections that still leave me breathless at every listen. 21 is raw, so much
so that its melodrama can even be funny at the right timesthe kind of
laughter that comes in the middle of fts of tears and all of your troubles
are suddenly gone.
21 frst came into my life during the downfall of my frst gay relation-
ship. Him: liberal and liberated, a product of Portland and private school,
equipped with the kind of cultural literacy and knowledge that could make
any gay boy swoon. Me: a burgeoning hipster, two-thirds closeted, ready
to take on the world but too sexually repressed and conservative to know
how. I wanted to be free and open like he was, but unwilling to face my
very repressed, very apparent non-straight-ness. (I also sucked at dating.)
After a two-month courtship, I broke up with him in the worst way possi-
ble: via a text message that essentially said, Its not you, its me!
Even though I was the asshole in the situation, I was still sad. I mean, I
liked the guy, and the fact that I chose my internalized homophobia over
him made me feel like an utter failure. So the night after I called of our
relationship for good, I turned on my favorite song from 21, Someone
Like You, and bawled.
Adele resonated with me in a way that no other artist could at the time.
She was regretful, she was sorry, she was unsure if she would ever love
again, like my woeful, 17-year-old self felt. Listening to Someone Like
You was not only like talking it out to someone who understood, but
who allowed me to revel in my agony. Adele never told me to cheer up;
she cried, dont forget me, aww babe! in her goosebump-inducing shrill.
Someone Like You is an emotional wreck of a song, and it was exactly
what I needed.
About a year later, in my senior year, listening to 21 became a game.
Whenever my best friends and I would go out to drive, we played Adele
songs and sang them at the top of our lungs, pretending we had her vocal
range and hurting our throats in the process. One Tursday night after
a frozen yogurt run, we were waiting at an intersection as opening bars
of Someone Like You come out of the car speakers. Suddenly, I wave of
spontaneity washed over me, and I took the 21 game to the next level. I
turned up the volume, rolled down the window, and leaned my entire torso
out of the car.
I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited, I lip-synced, looking deep
into the eyes of the driver next to us and staying as serious as possible. I
was seeing if I could serenade him. He tried to keep his eyes on the road,
but his passengers rolled down their windows down so they could sing,
Never mind Ill fnd someone like youuuuuuuu, we fake-crooned,
as though we were Adele ourselves! When the light turned green, I kept
lip-syncing and sing-yelling at other drivers and pedestrians. My friends
in the car keeled over with laughter. We spent the rest of the night sing-
ing songs from 21 all over our town, distracting hundreds of drivers and,
thankfully, causing no known accidents. Tat night was etched in to my
memory, and the painful thoughts I associated with 21 were suddenly re-
written. Now, whenever I hear Adele, I remember and I smile.

14 15
You were drunker than high school, self-conscious and sweet.
I never ever felt so cool disguised in your sheets.
But Im a constant headache, a tooth out of line.
Joyce Manor Constant Headache
It felt like it ended before it started. It was another drunk Halloween
night, but one Ill never forget. It was the most beautiful parking lot in
Eugene. You were there.
I cant remember what we were giggling about, but I remember yr glow
beneath the streetlights. Te way you bit yr bottom lip before we fnally
kissed. I remember every freckle. Every one. We didnt last long togeth-
er, maybe a month? Tree? Im still not entirely sure what counted. But I
remember every thing that counted, every stolen kiss, every word whis-
pered in the soft silences. A stubborn reminder that one perfect nights
not enough.
Joyce Manors self-titled is a whirlwind nineteen minutes that is very
much a kindred spirit. Ten perfect tracks dripping with essential punk
angst, coupled with powerful undercurrents of loves found and loves lost.
Each track feels fnished, but individually manages to feel cut short, fn-
ished well before it could have. Sounds about right.
If you were to walk by a brown-haired, blue-eyed 11-year-old in full
catholic school garb and a JanSport backpack, singing at the top of his
lungs drug dealing, just to get by! would you double take? What if that
same prepubescent suburbanite spat out I say fuck the police thats how
I treat em? Would your mouth drop? Or would you simply acknowledge
that the potentially disturbed child was exhibit A of the pop music climate
of early 2004, as Kanye West brought backpacker rap to the masses - even
those little squirts who wore backpacks to Mass and rapped along about
materialism, class inequality, and yeah, some Slow Jamz too.
Having been fed a steady diet of Pink Floyd and U2 while riding along in
my dads pickup truck, I was destined to fall in love with Te College Drop-
out, Kanye Wests soulful and acerbic popular debut. If music challenged
the status quo, even a status quo I was too young to understand, it was
worth my ear. And challenging Te College Dropout was and it was catchy.
It was angry. It was a celebration of everybody waiting on their Spaceships
to fy far, far away.
If Outkasts Speakerboxxx/Te Love Below launched now decade-long
love afair with hip hop, Te College Dropout poured gas on the fuse. Te
album subverted my weekly chore of singing along in church with the rau-
cous anthem Jesus Walks, helped launch my puberty by casting Stacey
Dash in the All Falls Down video, and introduced me to the likes of Talib
Kweli, Mos Def, and Common. All of a sudden, that catholic school new
kids uniformed shorts started to sag a little lower, his stride grew a little
looser, and his vocabulary became a little.harsher.
Now remember, this was Kanye before Kim, Kanye before Katrina,
Kanye before the Kanye most now know and loathe. Ten years later, hes
by all means deplorable, and I veered from the path he so magnetically laid
Im graduating from college this month. But as the 11-year-old who felt
trapped in the private school bubble, for those winter and spring months
of 2004, Te College Dropout gave me a reason to fy.
16 17
My best friend Robert Balkovich used to live right next to me. A few
streets over and up in the hills. He used to hitch a ride with me, back when
we went to high school together. We utilized this time in the car together
for two thingscomplaining about having to go to school with a bunch of
redneck idiots, and listening to music that we know made us cooler than
them. We were punk after punk stopped really being a thing.
One of the very frst times we rode together, Robert played for me a
band I had never heard of before. Whats this? I inquired. OH MY GOD
back at me. Te very next day he had burned a mixed CD for me, full of
his favorite songs of theirs which I later realized were all from their EPs.
Classic Balkovich.
Its been over eleven years since he gave me that CD. A decade and some
change, and a lot has happened since then. Boyfriends, ex-boyfriends, two
diferent colleges, moving across the country and then back again. But af-
ter all this time Robert and I are still the best of friends, and I still love the
Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Teyve been through it all, and it seems that theyve
come out with a new album for every new phase of my life. Tere are a
million things that their music reminds me of which tends to be the reason
why I dont listen to them as often as I used to. It stirs up too much inside
of me.
But last year when I found out they would be playing in Brooklyn,
where Robert and I both happened to be living in at the time, I knew it
was time to revisit them. It had been a promise we made to each other that
if we ever had the opportunity to see them, we would take it. I bought us
both tickets to see them, as Robert at the time was broke and could barely
aford a Metro Card. I didnt even care about which one of us paid for the
tickets, I just wanted to see them with the one person in the world that
would understand why I would be the only audience member to be balling
my eyes out to the songs Maps. And as it turns out, I ended up crying
pretty much the entire concert. Because that music, that band, is more
than that really. It symbolizes a lifetime of change, and a friendship that
has endured in spite of everything.
My best friend Robert Balkovich is visiting this summer, in the house
that he grew up in. A few streets over and up in the hills. I hope we spend
some time driving around listening to mix CDs.
18 19
When I was in fourth grade, Santa Claus brought me the soundtrack to
Disneys Tarzan. Goodbye Raf and camp songs, hello swinging from my
bunk bed while singing Two Worlds. My frst name is Jane and I found a
namesake in Tarzans half-naked lady friend, who I sometimes paid hom-
age to by going Mowgli and foregoing my shirt during bedroom perfor-
mances. Tankfully, puberty hadnt hit yetjust like my taste in music.
Im 21-years-old now, and Im still waiting for my good music taste to
kick in. I graduated from Tarzan when I graduated from elementary school.
No more banging pots and pans in my kitchen to Trashin the Camp. In-
stead, middle school survival led me to Ryan Seacrests Top 40. For three
years, I tuned in to Z100, watched MTV, and found life lessons in Vanessa
Carltons lyrics. Ill admit that Ive cried to Brittney Spears Always and
made a few homemade A*Teens music videos.
As much as Id like to deny these behaviors, I have proof. Te opening
line of my eighth-grade journal reads, So, this is the story of my life, which
reminds me of my favorite song Unfaithful by Rihanna. Even though I
still consider myself musically handicapped, I can at least recognize Rihan-
na as being the lowest of brows.
In high school, a boyfriend with a large CD collection opened my eyes to
the likes of Death Cab for Cutie, the Decemberists, and Vampire Weekend.
I was fnally starting to get it. I thought all Dave Matthews songs sound-
ed like glorifed Nickleback, but at least my iTunes library no longer looked
like a middle school dance playlist.
I wasnt fully exorcised of my musical demons, however. In high school,
my concert repertoire included Owl City, Bowling for Soup, Earth, Wind,
and Fire, and Justin Bieber. I could play it of as eclectic, but we all know
better. I use the pronoun we because Im from Portland, Oregon, where
having a good taste in music is expected. Obviously good is relative, but
in Portland the standards are just too high. And knowing that I supposedly
had to like local Indie music made me resent it all the more.
Leaving Portland to attend college in Eugene didnt ease my musical
woes. In fact, I did the worst possible thing I could have done: I dated a
musician. He played the guitar, but not the cute kind (acoustic). No, his
genre of choice was electric jazz. For more than a year, I was forced to
listen to instrumentals. To be fair, he sometimes incorporated Kendrick
Lamar into our sex playlist, but that also wasnt appreciated. (Side note: I
just googled Kardashian dude because I couldnt remember Kendrick La-
mars name.) Needless to say, my boyfriend and I reacted very diferently
when Macklemore and Ryan Lewis beat Lamar to win Album of the Year
at the 2014 Grammys.
Eleven years after I received my Tarzan CD, my taste in music has
branched out thanks to a little peer pressure. Pressing shufe on my play-
list (which is one of the bravest things I could do in public) reveals: Regina
Spektor, Blind Pilot, and Chris Brown. Middle school musical memories
still linger, but generally Ive embraced bands that my roommates and
friends approve ofand more important stillI like. Ill always have a
soft spot for lowbrow music, but thats who I am. Maybe if Santa Claus
had brought me Radiohead, Id be diferent, but like Rihanna says, I dont
do things for the response or the controversy. I just live my life.
20 21
I have always been sort of a melancholy guy which, admittedly, has nev-
er made me particularly fun to be around. Im not kidding when I say that
I recall having my frst existential crisis when I was seven. I tried to gaze
past beyond my fnal synaptic fring, to feel the sensation of nothingness
and an infnite lack of consciousness. Its a funny idea, really, that, as a sec-
ond grader, I attempted to imagine the experience of death. Te thought
scared me so much that I hid under my parents bed, hyperventilating into
a small pillow. I eventually calmed down and I peeked out from my refuge
to look around the dark room. My parents had these horrible, lavender
vertical blinds which let slits of afternoon sunlight lazily stream through
the darkness. I remember watching motes of dust slowly move throughout
these streams as if fowing through honey. I was enthralled by how they
would sink and fy, fall and twist into a specifc patch of light that was so
strong the motes would explode into translucence only to reappear, solid,
an instant later. As I watched, the threat of mortality transformed into an
appreciation of the small, unique treasures that my life had to ofer.
My worldview has consistently involved looking at life through
this particular brand of melancholy, one where sadness and beauty go
hand-in-hand. Its not the most fun way to experience the world, but, at
the risk of sounding pretentious, I feel I can see a side of things that most
people dont often appreciate. It has always been a balancing act to keep
sadness from becoming overwhelming yet still use it to enjoy the world
in my own perverse way. I have often failed. Take most of high school,
for example. My sophomore year ran aground with unrequited love and I
found myself identifying with a form of expression which I now shudder
at: emo/pop-punk/scene music. My iPod was full of Cute is What we Aim
For, Jimmy Eat World, etc. Tis type of music has a very specifc, theme:
Look at how much Im hurting right now! Care about my sufering! Un-
fortunately, I very readily made this my mantra in an efort to make people
(love interest) acknowledge my existence. I have tried to obliterate pic-
tures of myself from this time period, but I believe one still exists. In it, I
do not smile; I have long, atrociously dyed bangs; a Jacks Mannequin shirt
regrettably purchased from Hot Topic; tight girl jeans, which, for some
reason, I was proud I could ft into; and a black and white checkered seat-
belt belt which, if I remember that one time in AP English correctly, was
heavy enough to perform the exact opposite function belts are designed
for. I carry with me a perpetual dread that someone I meet in college might
see this photo.
Te world was not enjoyable or beautiful when I acted like this; I
was only luxuriating in selfsh sadness. Luckily, time makes fools of us all.
I eventually hacked of my bangs, threw away my skinny jeans, and buried
my Jacks Mannequin shirt in the darkest recesses of my dresser. I peeled
of a superfcial identity that no longer ft; I scratched at that famboyant
depression like I would a sunburn that itched and blistered. My iTunes
library fell victim to my delete key and I began from scratch, looking for
something like the dust motes, music which expressed the melancholy I
instinctively felt in a sublimely beautiful way.
I found it driving, alone, through a winter night in Albuquerque,
listening to a friends mix CD. Te cold of New Mexican winters is unique.
Its dry cold; it burns to breathe and sinks deep, making a painful home
in your lungs. It makes the night sky unbelievably clear, as if every mole-
cule of the atmosphere dissolves into infnite, inky blackness leaving only
the sparks of stars behind. It makes a boy in his white mini-van feel lost
in entropy, insignifcant. When the clangy, opening chords of Bon Ivers
Skinny Love suddenly crescendoed through my speakers and Justin Ver-
non began his frst verse, something deep in my consciousness stirred. A
weight I didnt know I carried slipped of my chest and I felt utterly awake.
Somehow, under the baths of all the western stars, this pleading, poignant
song brought me actively into the world. While Skinny Love played I let
go of my inhibitions and really, truly, and profoundly felt beauty and sad-
ness, happiness and terror. I was undeniably myself, genuinely alive. And
the best part about it was that I was wearing a pair of jeans that didnt kill
my future children.
22 23
I always, at any given chance, talk about pop punk and about the bands
I grew up listening to. It was a big infuence in my teenage years and its
kind of a funny and necessary story to refect on for myself.
For context, I didnt grow up listening to the quintessential American
music some of our parents grew up listening to. I grew up in Alaska (which
is a great personal fun fact) but within a very small and quaint frst-gener-
ation Mien community who had mostly resettled from California; I grew
up surrounded by a closely knit extended family consisting of my grand-
mother, my aunts and uncles, and my cousins. Because of this, I grew up
listening to this indescribable, yet very distinctive traditional Mien aca-
pella crooning that originated from Southeastern parts of Asia. I grew up
listening to Mien, Tai, and Lao music my parents listened to. I grew up
listening to hip hop, R&B, and slow jams my older cousins listened to. I
grew up with the 90s and early 2000 Top 40. So its kind of a funny story
how I got into pop punk.
Te frst time I heard New Found Glorys song Forget My Name was
on a MySpace profle the summer after sixth grade. I was twelve and had a
MySpace, but thats what the cool kids on the Internet did and at the very
least, mom, Im alive and well today. I remember replaying that one song
throughout the summer; the sound was very new to me and it wasnt like
the music on the radio at the time.
Middle school started after that summer. For almost everyone, middle
school was an awkward and uncomfortable part of our lives. Youre going
to be thirteen; youre going to be a teenager. You slowly try to fgure out
who you are and who you want to be. For me, it was a chance to reinvent
myself. I befriended a girl who shopped at Hot Topic and wore studded
belts. She made me mixed CDs of her favorite bands. She gave me a sample
CD of Te Blood Brothers Oh god, she was so cool. She was the person
I wanted to be, and so I thought that if I got into this type of music and
dressed a certain way, I could become someone new and I could be some-
one like her.
Tis story at its core is a necessary part of myself and its something
for me to refect on and laugh about. I wanted to be the kind of girl my
friend was, so I felt like I had to reject these parts of me. Along the way of
reinventing myself, I started rejecting and forgetting my own identity, my
culture, and my mother tongue. How do I act whiter? How do I talk whiter?
Seem whiter?
So thats how my love of pop punk started. And it was a funny time
in my life a period of self-rejection and of forgetting. It took years to
unlearn this.
In retrospect, I dont think I would have had the chance to discover so
many diferent artists across all genres if it wasnt for this song and the
journey it started me on. I still listen to way too much pop punk. I still
listen to Forget My Name. Teres no blame involved it was just sort of
those things you go through in your teenage years.
So lets talk about pop punk. Lets talk about how pop punk changed
our lives.
24 25
Te frst song I heard by Te Magnetic Fields was Te Book of Love. I
found it through my dad, whod played the Peter Gabriel cover a few times
during his one-man So-revival phase in my early teens. When I looked up
the original song, I was surprised. Both versions are gorgeous, but the con-
trast between the two is astounding. One is fully orchestrated and lush
(and might I say heavy-handed?) and the other is sparse and personal.
Te cover says, look at this big huge love I have for you, its here and ines-
capable and reasonable while the original takes your hand and leads you
to the soft, quiet room in your house where theres an old nylon-stringed
acoustic guitar, and tells you, this is something I made for you because I
love you so goddamn much.
I only listened to the Magnetic Fields version occasionallyI was in
middle school, music didnt really mean that much to me yet. Beyond that,
songs about love meant even less. It wasnt until mid-high school that I
began listening to the song closer, in earnest. It hit me so hard that I want-
ed to buy the rest of the album, so I got on the internet and discovered
that the whole album actually had sixty-nine songs on it. Of course, I as-
sumed it was a compilation albumno one releases sixty-nine songs at
once, right?
Nope. 69 Love Songs is actually just thata three-disc album comprised
of sixty-nine songs about love. Not only that, but a lot of the songs are
from the point of view of Stephin Merritt, the openly gay songwriter for
Te Magnetic Fields. Tis means that many of the love songs are about
two men! Men in love! Id never heard music that nonchalantly told stories
about gay dudes in love, and as a closeted teen boy I was hooked. Songs
like Papa Was a Rodeo and When My Boy Walks Down the Street and
Sweet-Lovin Man made me realize that being an out, gay man didnt
have to be awfulit could be wonderful, and you could even write songs
about it! (Maybe even sixty-nine of them at a time.)
Tose sixty-nine songs were such a sizable chunk of music that I didnt
listen to another Magnetic Fields album for a couple years. By then, I was
in my frst year of college. Id heard a song in a movie, and I recognized
Merritts (incredibly distinctive) baritone but not the song itself. I found
the song, and what do you know: it was on another Magnetic Fields con-
cept album. I Dont Believe You is a song from i, an album with songs that
only start with the letter i.
After devouring i, I moved on to Distortion and then Realism and then
on to Love at the Bottom of the Sea, following the bands actual linear pro-
gression. What I learned was that Merritt might shift around in genre and
subject, but his quirky lyrical style and sense of humor shines through
every time. At frst, I thought it was corny. Who writes a whole song called
Id Go Anywhere With Hugh that depends solely on a Hugh/you faux-ho-
mophone? And a whole album that starts with the letter i?
I eventually realized how important those little lyrical jokes are. Im the
kind of guy who likes a good (bad?) pun, so the songs are funny to me. Ob-
viously, the jokes are funny to Merritt, too. Over and over again, Merritt
writes songs that he feels passionate about. He makes art on a personal
level, and that makes it resonate with his audience.
Te songs arent complex, theyre just catchy and honest. Teyve made
me feel comfortable in my own skin and have taught me to make honest
art, even if that art might get a little punny sometimes.
26 27
It was the year 2003 and I was eight years old. George Bush was pres-
ident. My parents owned a station wagon. I was fat with bangs and bad
eyesight. For lack of better G-rated terms, my life was an emotional melt-
ing pot. Tis morning in particular, emotions were running high. My
mom had booked a god-awful 6:00 AM fight to Hawaii and our family
was packed into the station wagon on the way to the airport. After already
exchanging blows once that morning with my sister (the reason why I had
been delegated to the very back seat), I needed a way to pass the time while
still not letting my parents know that I was excited for the trip. (I planned
to get my hair cornrowed and with beadsbut thats another story.) I had
a Walkman CD player and a bag of CDs, but my Backstreet Boys CD had
been severely scratched. I distinctly remember scrounging through my
bag, cursing at whomever had broken my Hit Clips at recess, pulling out
random disks until fnally an unwrapped one caught my eye. Te Jackson
5s Greatest Hits. Te cd had been a present from my dad. I had scofed at it
when hed given to me, thinking to myself that my dad was a total square.
Te opening song, I Want You Back, was enough to make me take back
every mean thing I had said about my dad in the past year. Even the time I
called him cheap for refusing to get me a Razor scooter. I began to silently
cry as I listened to all eleven songs. By the time track 5 rolled around,
Ill Be Tere I had already attracted the attention of my parents with my
choking sobs. My mom asked me why I was crying and I responded with
something along the lines of You wouldnt understand. (In retrospect,
that has to be concerning for a parent to hear from their second grader.)
Te truth was though that I did not understand exactly why I was cry-
ing but I tried to narrow it down to the top three reasons.
1. I cried because I had never heard such beautiful music before.
2. I cried because I had no idea what emotions they were describing.
3. And most of all, I cried because I knew that I would never meet a boy
talented enough to sing and write songs like that for me while living in
Salem, Oregon.
I had already come to the realization that Catholic school would not be
where I would fnd great romance. With the same ffty kids in my grade
from frst until twelfth grade, I was already looking into becoming a nun.
(It seemed like a great gig.) But after listening to the Jackson 5, I knew
that there was more out there.
I quickly gave up the idea of making my vows to God and focused on
something more important: romance and beautiful boys who could har-
monize. I became obsessed with the Jackson 5. I saw their music as an
indicator that there was so much more out there in the world that I did
not know about. Until that day, I did not know that it was possible to make
such beautiful music.
To this day, I am crippled with emotion when I hear a Jackson 5 song,
but they are good emotions. Listening to their music puts me in a time
capsule back to 2003. So although Michael Jackson may have messed up
Macaulay Culkins life, he taught me a few valuable lessons: Whenever you
least expect it, something will come along and change your life. My dad has
better taste in music than I expected. And last, but not least, if I ever fnd
a boy who can sing like Michael, I will snatch him up.
28 29
Lets start by stating the obvious here: music is a powerful feeling. Its
an added emotion to my already highly developed emotional vocabulary.
And Im sure it is the same for you.
Now, my frst musical infuence came from the Beatles. Teir level of
skill in writing, musicianship, and talent is something that I cherished
growing up with. If challenged, I could sing any given Beatles song on the
spot and nail every single word, harmony and arrangement. Yet the emo-
tional pull that I have to the Beatles is not one that I feel I can relate to
at this age. Its not the age of the music, or the subject matter, because
both of those are fuid. Its just the time I grew into them. If I grew into
the Beatles in high school, my associations and emotions with each song
would be completely diferent. It comes down to the fact that when I was
5 years old my emotional attachments to memories (however hazy at my
age) were shallow. My frst memory of the Beatles was my Dad playing
them to me as I played with toys. Tey do have a slight nostalgic element
to them, but for the most part there was no sense of discovery, it was as
if the Beatles were already hardwired with appreciation and knowledge in
me by my conscious teen years. Tat is not to say they did not infuence me
on how I chose my music for the future. Te fact of the matter is, for one to
have an emotional feeling towards music, one has to have a person-to-per-
son experience. Music, for however many emotions it conjures up, is the
language of human beings and their emotions. And no matter if you are
sitting alone in your room, or blasting music in your car; there is someone
in your life that that song/band is associated with. Its at which point that
strong musical feelings are created when a person can relate their own ex-
perience to another person. No matter the artist for me, whether it is Ken-
drick Lamar to Disclosure to Roy Ayers to Incubus. Tere exists a human
connection to each and every song by each and every artist.
Te defnition of these connections varies with emotion. Im not going
to list each emotion that a song can evoke, but I can guarantee its many.
Te association of an artist or song to a location or time period again all
ties to the personal relationship shared with whomever you were listening
with at the time or thinking of at that time. Putting it this way, if all the
music in the world was available to one person, but they were the only per-
son left on earth I bet that person wouldnt listen to music. Why? Tere is
no one to share it your own emotional experience with.
Tis opinion is coming from an only child who, like many, uses music as
an everyday escape from both the positive and the negatives in the world.
Te fact of the matter is, there is no musical expert in the world, there
are just people who are more experienced expressing themselves to others
through music. Trough the shared events of giving your friend a heads
up on a band they might like, or going to a concert with thousands of oth-
er people you dont know. By showing up to concerts in which you know
nobody, you all at least share a mutual trait and that is the love of that
brand of music. Something shared and something emotional, the essence
of human beings and the root equation to the feeling of music.
30 31
Te frst time I heard Nirvanas In Utero, I understood it about as well as
most donkeys understand Ernest Hemingways Te Sun Also Rises. Which,
generally speaking, isnt well. Illiterate jackasses.
I was entering middle school and on a portable CD player grind. Like
the color of my eyes, my height, and my general feelings of never being
good enough, I got my music from my parents. With my mom, I listened
to Billy Idol, Prince, and Michael Jackson. With my dad, I was exposed to
bands like Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, and the Circle Jerks. Rummaging
through his CD collection, I stumbled upon In Utero. Te frst time I lis-
tened to it, I had no idea what the fuck any of the songs meant. Why did
they keep switching back and forth from mellow to angry? What were all
the singers apologies for? And what the hell was a Heart Shaped Box?
(NOTE: if I had known that it was a reference to Courtney Loves vagina
back I dont think I would have remained a fan all these years later).
Still, when my dad asked me what I thought of the album I pretended to
understand it and said I enjoyed it, the same way I had when he had let me
stay up late and watch Eddie Murphys Raw and I pretended to understand
the masturbation jokes. Truthfully though, I had no idea what the fuck any
of the songs meant.
Ten, puberty happened.
Puberty is a terrible name for the changes that occur in your early teen
years. Its about a lot more than growing pubic hair all over your body (se-
riously my knuckles?!), no matter what my mom says. As shitty as it was
explaining why my legs now resembled Ben Afecks face from the movie
Argo, it was even harder to explain the way I felt.
Now an angsty teenager, I understood what the fuck the songs were
about. I also now understood Eddie Murphys masturbation jokes, but I
wont go into further detail on that.
Kurt Cobains voice wasnt great from a technical aspect. It was raspy
and screechy (sort of like mine at that age). But thats exactly why Nirvana
was such a great group. Tey sounded human. No one on the planet earth
sounds like (or dresses like) Prince. I struggle relating to Billy Idols afnity
for white weddings. I mean, I enjoy listening to it, but it doesnt speak to
me the same way Kurt Cobains raw voice did as he referred to himself as
his own parasite.
Tis was someone who didnt try to get you to understand him, and he
didnt pretend like he understood you.
Lines like Im so tired I cant sleep and My heart is broke, but I have
some glue served as a lullaby to a mildly depressed, anxious, and confused
teenager. Now in my twenties, fresh of a break up, about to move away
from all of my friends, and on the verge of starting my real life, theyre
doing the same thing.
32 33
When you frst bought Te Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place you were prob-
ably fourteen or ffteen years old. It was a few years old by then but still
on the shelf, shiny. You bought it in a bookstore, a CD, one of the last you
ever bought, and this was when you were buying CDs without listening
to them, just looking at the litany of their covers and wondering if they
would be good. You didnt know what Explosions in the Sky meant.
At home you listened to it on your own in your room and an enormous
world opened up. You were not used to music stirring such things inside
you. You were not used to feeling that kind of way for no reason, outside
of language, inside of a larger, more radiant truth.
You brought it to school and made your friends listen to it. You wrote
to it together in a room with huge windows that let the afternoon light in.
It would stay on your iPod for years, through iterations of devices (white
Nano, green Nano, black iPhone 4 now cracked and hardly functioning),
through moves across the country, two dorm rooms, and the house in
which you now live.
When you are sixteen you go to their show in Portland. You are too
young to drink and have to stay on the underage side of the crowd but you
let the sound overtake you and you sit on the barrier between wet and dry
and this was before you learned how to crowdsurf and hardly knew what
weightless meant but still you feel some kind of breathtaken for those
short hours.
When you are eighteen you put on this CD while you kiss the frst boy
patient enough with your pleasure to move inside you without hurting
you. Six days at the bottom of the ocean overlaps with the sound of white
noise, synthetic rain he left on loop on his computer, you feel like you are
falling to pieces again and again and again.
When you are nineteen you play this CD while you sleep with another
man & it has been some iterations of the frst now, each sparkling and im-
perfect in his own way & he says to you: this is big music. You are already
overtaken on the wave which carries you the same way it always carries
you. Your bed is under the window. Te windows are open. You wonder if
anyone can hear you shout.
And youre twenty and you fuck to Purity Ring now. You moved your
bed against the wall and sometimes you brush up against the cold of it in
your sleep. You havent listened to Explosions in the Sky in months now.
Youre afraid to. Teres so much inside there. You used to listen to it while
you paced, while you wrote. Its picked up the lint of your life now. Te
Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place. Te infnite compression of six years of your
He doesn't speak the language
He holds no currency
He is a foreign man
He is surrounded by the sound
(Te sound!)
He looks around, around
He sees angels in the architecture
Spinning in infnity
He says Amen! and Hallelujah!
Paul Simon
You Can Call Me Al